One-on-one with Fatal1ty at CES

Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel is known by a lot of people as the closest thing professional gaming has to a Michael Jordan. He’s won a ton of tournaments and made a lot of bread in the past few years. Now he’s got his own line of gaming products, and at the beginning of this week, announced his partnership with DirecTV and Fox Family to serve as the host/commentator for DirecTV’s Championship Gaming Series.

The series is slated to start internationally broadcasting to about 100 million homes this spring. It’s going to feature gaming teams from North America, Latin America, United Kingdom, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Australia. The prize is $1 million.

I managed to catch up to Fatal1ty at CES today for a few minutes. After the jump is our conversation. My questions are in bold. Read and enjoy if you like.

Talk a little about what’s going on with Direct TV

“(Fox and DirecTV) are trying to make gaming into a real sport. They’re gonna have managers, they’re gonna have a draft, just like you would for any other major sport, and the players that play on the series will be paid a salary to compete and be a part of that team. On top of that, it’s going to be available to over 100 million homes around the world., and we have got IGN Entertainment and MySpace to help promote it.”

What exactly is your role in all this?

“I’m basically working in the “host” role, and my goal is to help promote this sport as much as I can. This is the next step for me, this is the next level of making gaming a mainstream sport. I’ll be a TV commentary guy — play-by-play, strategy, what’s going on, give a history of my career or what I would have done in a certain situation. So for the next year to three years or so, I’ll be doing this. I’ll still be gaming of course — by no means am I retiring. This is just me putting my energy into helping promote gaming to the next level, because right now is the time. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really make gaming a sport. I’m gonna try my best to make it happen. We have a great team, and a lot of credibility coming into this. By me being a commentator and telling you what’s going on, I’m going to explain to you why this IS a sport — there’s tension, reflexes, timing, strategy, everything. I’ll talk about all that stuff.

You’re stepping into this “ambassdor” role for gaming. You’ve seen legislation come out regarding video games — are we going to see you expand that role and talking to politicians one day?

” I’d say most definitely. Just like any other athlete — you look at Michael Jordan and he has say in a lot of different things, mostly with like the player’s association, stuff like that. He had a big voice for all the basketball players — that’s kind of what I’ve been planning with gaming. I’ve had companies talk to me all the time, I’ve talked to some guys from the White House before — I just randomly ran into them and they were interested in talking to me. I even had ex-CIA agents talk to me, so maybe they want me to do something for the Army. I haven’t really done anything that progressive (with politicians) yet, but I know there’s been interest from them in my story and what I do.

Just a few years ago, you were known as one of, if not the, best gamer. Now you’ve sort of become this “mogul” — how has that changed your motivations over the years?

“In my career I’ve accomplished a lot and I’m really proud of what I’ve done. I’m fortunate to win as many titles as I have, to be able to do something I love and be good at it. I guess I’ve created a kind of legacy for myself. It’s interesting because I was doing it just because I loved doing it. I wasn’t really thinking about fame, or any of that kind of stuff. My three goals growing up as a kid and becoming a pro gamer were: I want to travel overseas and play video games — that’d be so cool if someone flew me overseas to play video games. My No. 2 goal was to become No 1 in the world. And my No. 3 goal was that when I became No. 1 in the world, I wasn’t going to be the typical guy
who’s the world champion. I’m not going to be a jerk or a—— to my fans, or to anyone. I want to show a good role model for all gamers and the kids. I just want to be myself. I have fans who are 8, 9, 10 years old and their parents support them playing video games and support me as a role model.”

You have a lot of people tell you how great you are. Is it hard to keep your wits about you and stay humble?

“Yeah, for me it’s … (pauses) … Don’t believe everything you hear. I appreciate everyone saying great things about me and so on, but in the long run, I’m just like, ‘Dude, be yourself.’ I know what I’ve done, and I’m happy about what I’ve done. I just want respect and love. I want my respect for what I’ve done because I worked for it, and obviously, everyone wants to be loved.”

Talk a little about retirement. Does it ever cross your mind?

“For me there’s definitely going to be a day when I announce my retirement. When that day is, I have no idea, because right now, I still have this huge fire in my stomach that wants to win every tournament. I cannot stand losing. Period. I will do whatever it takes to get to the top.”

How has the game (no pun intended) changed for you over the years? What have you seen?

“The gamers now treat (gaming) more like a sport, a profession. Being one of the first, I’ve set kind of an example of what it is to be a pro gamer, and now these guys are living up to that. They’re playing six to eight hours a day, training, working at it, going to training camps with their friends, traveling all over the world to get experience and knowledge of their game to get better. The competition has gotten higher — but at the same time, I’m getting better because my competition is better. I’m good at taking a person’s skills and always finding a way to win. It’s kinda like the Bruce Lee analogy — he’s always adapting to his opponent, always finding a weakness, and he’ll just abuse it. I have the tools and skills to win, but if I learn my opponent, I will break him down.”

Biggest triumphs?

“I’m juggling so many things at once. Winning the World Tour finals for ‘Painkiller’, winning $150,000, that was the best thing ever for me — it was the pinnacle of my career. Coming from behind, playing a game that everyone else started before I did and to be in the finals … but that’s also a disappointment. Every game I’ve played in the last two or three years, I’m coming into the game way late. I’m always starting the game six months late, seven months late, and I’m just way behind my competition from the start. So I have to play catch-up every frickin’ year. It sucks. When you start from the beginning, you’re always on top. But when you’re playing from behind, it’s just … it’s an uphill battle. I think that’s what’s been so great in the past two years, being able to show that I can crawl through the trenches and come back. It’s a lot of work. the next game I want to be world champion at, I’m going to start from the beginning. Playing from behind is a struggle, but it’s also really gratifying. That’s my goal. Never quit.”